The Truth About Vaping Versus Cigarette Smoking
From the time that we were in our youth, we’ve learned the dreadful health risks about smoking cigarettes. If not, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be all too happy to warn that “Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths.”
Most of us know as second nature the personal (and negative) impact that smoking engenders. Not only is the habit repulsive to our taste buds, but we also elicit complaints from our family and friends. Unfortunately, the Big Tobacco conglomerates know exactly what they are doing: by facilitating an addicted consumer base, they could guarantee themselves a consistent revenue stream, irrespective of individual health risks and costs to greater society.
That’s why when the vaporizer industry was initiated in the U.S. during the mid to late-2000s, and popularized in the 2010 decade, it was a godsend to millions of smokers. For the first time, end-users could enjoy their adult liberties without offending their neighbors’ sensibilities, or that of their own lungs. If anything, the vaporizer format felt remarkably cleaner than its analog counterpart.
But just how quantifiable is this universal perception? It’s one thing to personally notice a difference between one format or another. It’s quite another to conduct actual research in scientific environments to ascertain fact from fiction.
In this article, we provide extensive data using the most recent, relevant information available. We hope that armed with the research we offer, you will come to a conclusion that works best for you and your family.
Combustion Versus Vaporization
Before we (or anyone) discuss the topic about vaping versus cigarette smoking, we must first establish the primary difference between the two. Obviously, the two platforms look different, but we’re after something much more fundamental – smoking requires combustion of choice materials, whereas vaporizers utilize vaporization, hence the name.
To outsiders, the distinction appears to be nothing more than semantics. Both platforms require thermal energy or heat to activate the flavors – after all, there’s no such thing as vaping or smoking “cold.” With several portable vaporizer systems exceeding temperatures of 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s understandable why members of the general public have a strong misunderstanding of the digital platform.
Without getting into the granularity of specific vaporizers and flavors, all e-juice vape devices feature a tank or cartridge, which contains the liquid. E-juices have a basic formula, which consists of three elements – a vegetable glycerin (VG) and polyethylene glycol (PG) base, flavoring, and if requested, nicotine.
When a vaporizer is engaged, this action triggers the vaporizer system to heat a small amount of e-liquid. The liquid is converted to vapor almost instantaneously, meaning that no physical material is burned. Thus, the advertised temperature range of an e-juice vaporizer impacts the heat of the vapor clouds. It doesn’t affect the burning process, as again, there is no physical material to burn.
Smoking, on the other hand, couldn’t be any more different than vaping. By their very nature, analog cigarettes require a physical material – essentially, tobacco leaves – to burn. And burning anything – whether tobacco leaves or a piece of paper from a notepad – results in combustion. For the vast majority of materials, this combustion process produces carbon byproducts, including the dangerous carbon monoxide (CO).
Just how deadly is CO? Extremely so, and if you’re not careful around CO emitting devices or machinery, pronounced, acute exposure can be fatal within minutes. Consider that health agencies around the world warn drivers not to idle their cars inside a garage or enclosure. Doing so can elevate CO levels to unacceptably hazardous levels.
Which begs the question, what powers most vehicles? The answer: a combustion engine.
If you want to be technical, analog cigarettes are akin to a rusty, old pickup truck whereas vaporizers are similar to electric vehicles, or EVs – cleaner and with far fewer emissions due to the fundamental difference between combustion and vaporization.
Misinformation and Misdirection
In politics, the “fake news” stigma and accusation runs rampant. No matter what position you take, it’s imperative that you utilize legitimate sources and factual information; otherwise, the credibility of your argument is unnecessarily weakened.
Such is the case with the otherwise brilliant website, WebMD. In their article, “Is Vaping Bad For You?”, they purport to dispel the myth that vaping is a cleaner alternative to smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately, they use bad science or distorted claims to arrive at their conclusions.
For instance, WebMD claims that some vaporizer systems use or emit formaldehyde, a harmful chemical if inhaled in large doses. While it’s not an entirely false claim, the framing and resultant implication is exceptionally suspect and flawed.
According to a Penn State research paper written in 2016, scientists discovered that vaporizers can emit harmful chemicals, one of which is formaldehyde. However, the context is that when vaporizers are used as prescribed, they result in only trace, hardly detectable amounts of chemicals. Moreover, analog cigarettes produce all of the described chemicals in far greater quantities.
Moreover, the particular e-liquids that have been used in the majority of these “studies” were of the lowest grade, and consisted of ingredients predominantly derived from China. The vast majority of American-made e-liquids that are concocted with food-grade and/or pharmaceutical-grade USA ingredients are often devoid of chemicals such as formaldehyde. Unfortunately, the abovementioned studies have failed to include such e-liquids within the scope of their research.
Therefore, to mention only the emissions present in the vaporizer platform is disingenuous and misleading. To their credit, WebMD cites data that vaporizers are significantly less harmful than cigarettes. But they could have done a more accurate and fair job by mentioning that formaldehyde production in cigarettes is considerably higher than their digital counterparts.
Other studies and reports that indicate the presence of harmful chemicals in vaporizer systems should note these studies’ testing methodologies. Vaporizers can emit concerning chemical levels; however, this is done via deliberately pushing the vaporizer to its maximum heat setting and without any e-liquid in the system, generating what’s known in vaping vernacular as a “dry hit.”
As enthusiasts, we know all too well the horrible taste of the dry hit; one experience and you’ll never want to endure it again! That’s why studies that push vaporizers into dry hit environments are extremely suspect – no one in real world situations would ever vape dry.
Yes, vaporizers can be made to be dangerous, but this is like saying a fork can be used as a weapon. It’s true, but this is abusing the designated use of the utensil. And at that point, we are no longer talking about vaping, but about abusing a system, which is an entirely different topic.
Is Vaping a Gateway to Teen Smoking?
One of the persistent myths and criticisms against the vaping industry is that the “digital arts” is a gateway to analog, cigarette smoking, particularly for teenagers. On the surface, the argument appears to make sense. During the formative years before a person reaches full adulthood, he or she is susceptible to multiple influences, and we all know the temptations for hanging with the “cool crowd.”
Also, the argument that vaping is a gateway to “real” cigarette smoking aligns with myths surrounding alternative “botanical” therapies as gateways to harder narcotics. This belief is a remnant of morality-based advocacy groups that are perhaps well-intentioned but have proven too aggressive in pursuing their agenda. Even to this day, politicians and social influencers cite connections between alternative botany and narcotics that are simply not substantially evidenced.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where morality advocates shoot first and ask questions later. When it comes to vaping, as it is in the herbal realm, correlations are asserted but are not yet proven.
For instance, the National Institute on Drug Abuse recently conducted a teen vaping study in which they concluded that teenage e-cigarette users are more likely to start analog smoking than their non-vaping counterparts. According to the statistics, 30.7% of teenage vapers transitioned to traditional cigarettes, while only 8.1% of non-vapers picked up the analog platform.
That sounds like a red flag, a smoking gun that proves vaping leads to mass health and societal consequences.
Or does it?
Like anything politically driven, one has to look at the fine print. For starters, underage vaping is illegal. Reputable retailers, such as Vapor Authority, never under any circumstances sell to underage customers. Furthermore, Vapor Authority takes the extra step of verifying individual state laws to ensure that every transaction meets stringent legal guidelines.
In other words, teenage vapers are breaking the law, and they know it. Thus, it’s inaccurate at best to conclude that vaping leads to increased cigarette smoking. Since necessarily all underage vapers are running afoul of the law, they more than likely have the personality type that leads to high-risk behaviors. Psychological factors, not vaping, is likely driving teenage smoking statistics.
More importantly, the National Institute of Drug Abuse claimed that the overwhelming majority (66%) of teenage vapers preferred e-juice blends without any nicotine. This is in line with broader vaping trends, where most end-users opt for flavorful concoctions as opposed to using vaporizers exclusively as an alternative to cigarettes.
The institute’s own discovery clouds their gateway conclusion in that traditional cigarettes feature far fewer flavor options than vaporizers or e-cigs. Moreover, cigarettes are inherently noxious to first-time users, irrespective of whether they have vaped previously or not.
Thus, the jury is still very much out when it comes to vaporizers impacting youth.
Cigarettes are Becoming Rapidly Unpopular
Moral advocacy groups will still associate vaping with analog smoking because it serves a political purpose. However, the actual statistics tell a far different tale. In reality, smoking is not only rapidly becoming unpopular, its usage among youth has declined to historically low levels – great news for government health officials, but not so much for Big Tobacco conglomerates.
According to data compiled by Statista.com, smoking among underaged youth hit what could be an all-time high in 1996. In that year, 57.8% of students representing a combination of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders reported that they had smoked a cigarette at some point in their (short) lifetime. The astonishing nature of this data point almost cannot be fully comprehended.
At the height of the cigarette boom, more than half of underaged youth in America smoked at least one cigarette. In fact, throughout the 1990s, the lowest prevalence of teenage smoking hit a rate no less than 53%. It wasn’t until the 2000s decade that teenage usage slipped beneath the critical 50% mark.
However, when youth smoking finally did fall, it fell surely and swiftly.
In 2007, smoking among underaged teens dropped to 33.3%, or exactly one-third of the youth population. Around the same time, the first vaporizer devices were introduced to the American retail market. In fact, the earliest known e-cig import stateside according to U.S. Borders and Custom Protection occurred on August 22, 2006.
Coincidence? We doubt it. In 2017, underage smoking incidents dropped to 17%, an unprecedented low. Based on known psychological statistics, if a young person doesn’t try smoking analog cigarettes in their youth, they are unlikely to pick up the habit later in adult life. That spells massive trouble for traditional tobacco firms.
The math doesn’t lie. From 1996 to 2007, the rate of underaged smoking declined by approximately 42%. From 2007 to 2017, the rate of decline dropped to nearly 49%, with a year to spare. Teenagers simply don’t want to smoke analog cigarettes, and these youth trends are aligned with cessation dynamics observed among all smoking Americans.
For both young and old, vaporizers provide a cleaner alternative that is more enjoyable than analog platforms and is often cheaper to consume. But on a far more simple and fundamental level, the availability of options has driven increased volume and integration of vaporizer systems.
The evidence just reaffirms what vape proponents have been saying all along.